This spring, I paddled Duck Hole, a wilderness pond surrounded by high mountains. Getting there was not easy—the trip entailed four carries totaling about two miles—but it was worth it. I wrote about my adventure for the July/August issue of the Explorer in an article titled “Portage to Paradise.”
Today that trip is no longer possible. And Duck Hole is no longer a paradise—unless you’re a mosquito.
Yesterday I returned to Duck Hole on foot to see firsthand what’s left of this beloved pond since its dam breached during Tropical Storm Irene.
The accompanying photos tell the story: Duck Hole is mostly muck, dotted with slime-covered stumps from the days before the dam. The streams that fed the pond continue to flow through the muddy plain. As far as I know, these are the first photos taken at Duck Hole since the dam’s breach. The state took aerial photos on Monday.
The two lean-tos at Duck Hole have long been favorite destinations of hikers on the Northville-Placid Trail. Both were undamaged by the storm, but their views are much impaired.
From the lean-to on the west shore, near the dam, hikers looked across the water toward an evergreen-studded island and, on the far side of the pond, a foaming waterfall, the outlet of Lower Preston Pond dropping to Duck Hole.
The island and the waterfall are still there, but instead of a pond, hikers will see a stream winding through mud.
In time, the view should improve as wetland plants colonize the banks of the stream. Tom Kalinowski wrote a nice piece for Adirondack Almanack discussing how nature will alter the Duck Hole landscape.
Of course, this assumes that the state will not reconstruct the dam. Coincidentally, the current issue of the Adirondack Explorer contains a debate on whether the Duck Hole dam—which had been deteriorating for years—should be repaired. Although the dam has been breached, the basic questions are the same. Should Duck Hole be preserved for the aesthetic pleasure of hikers and paddlers? Does a dam belong in a Wilderness Area? Can the state afford to fix it?
Neil Woodworth, the executive director of the Adirondack Mountain Club, believes most hikers would like to see the dam rebuilt. The state Department of Environmental Conservation hasn’t decided what to do and probably won’t until Irene is well behind us.
The floodwaters of Irene gouged out on the right bank next to the dam. The timber crib dam was built in the 1930s to float logs down the Cold River. While walking along the exposed mud shoreline of Duck Hole, I saw pick axes, a log boom, and other artifacts that had been underwater for years.
Incidentally, I reached Duck Hole by hiking seven miles from the Upper Works trailhead. The road to the trailhead is open, but DEC had posted signs indicating that all trails were closed. Nevertheless, I have been assured by DEC spokesman David Winchell that the public is allowed to hike to Duck Hole from Upper Works.
DEC has closed trails in the eastern High Peaks Wilderness, but Duck Hole is in the western High Peaks. DEC also has closed trails in the Giant Mountain Wilderness and Dix Mountain Wilderness.
I encountered some blowdown on my hike, but I was able to walk around or step over it with little difficulty. That seems to be par for the course in most of the Adirondacks. Winchell said the central and western Adirondacks received little damage from Irene. Even the McKenzie Pond Wilderness, located near Lake Placid, is OK for hiking, he said.
DEC is regularly updating trail conditions on its website. Click here to read the updates.